We're doing a second review today, for Daisy Whitney's When You Were Here. I read this book earlier in the summer, and had some mixed feelings about it.
YA contemporary Thursday/contemporary Thursday is when we review the latest and greatest books!
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format read: Finished copy (owned)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.
Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.
When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.
Things that worked:
He’s brusque, snarky and rude, but he’s also broken in a way that I could completely sympathize with.
Whitney does a spectacular job of showing how Danny gradually evolves from feeling completely cold and unfeeling on the inside, to regaining his connection with his mom, to eventually realizing that it’s okay to move on. He’s someone that I think anyone can relate to, and I think readers will fall for him completely.
Whitney captures Danny’s voice exceptionally well. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was reading the thoughts and emotions of a teenaged boy. She’s especially adept at capturing his grief – it’s angry and powerful, but it’s also
* Danny’s friendship with Kana.
I loved their rapport with one another, and how Kana encouraged Danny to view his own situation and the world around him with a very different pair of eyes.
But more importantly, I loved what Kana represented. She showed Danny that he would never be alone; that there are people in your life who will become your family, in the most unexpected of ways. I felt slightly emotional when I realized the depth of their friendship.
* Danny’s friends in general
We only get a brief snapshot of Danny’s friends in L.A., but I liked what I saw of them. Even though they were definitely “dudes” in every sense of the word, they were also fiercely loyal to him – e.g. his friend not sending him pictures of Sandy Koufax.
HIs friendship really reinforces the idea that there are people in your lives who will still be your family, even when your blood relatives may no longer be around.
* Danny’s relationship with Holland
It’s complex, beautiful and layered. I loved watching things unfold between them – it was sort of like peeling the layers off an onion, and seeing what you can find underneath.
(And if you think my metaphor is weird, blame Joss Whedon. That’s where I got it from!)
Things that didn't work:
To put it another way, there’s an adage that states that once you lose someone’s trust, it will take a lifetime to get it back. That’s how I felt about the situation. If I were one of the specific characters involved, I would have felt way too betrayed to regain my trust in the other party involved, that quickly.
Also, I do think that Whitney does a fantastic job of covering the revelation in a sympathetic, intelligent manner. Please don’t let my own opinions dissuade you from liking or enjoying this plotline.
Things to consider:
I absolutely can’t give away anything due to spoilers, but I will say that realizing the depth of the revelation – for lack of a better description – gave me complete goose bumps. You’ll be moved to the point of tears, just like I was.
Daisy Whitney does an exceptionally good job of showing that even after you think you’ve lost it all, there will be unexpected facets and unexpected richness to your life that will reveal itself when you least expect it.